First Bank of the United States
Company typePublic–private partnership
Defunct1811; 213 years ago (1811)
SuccessorSecond Bank of the United States (federal)
Girard Bank (building)
HeadquartersPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Key people
George Washington

The President, Directors and Company of the Bank of the United States, commonly known as the First Bank of the United States, was a national bank, chartered for a term of twenty years, by the United States Congress on February 25, 1791. It followed the Bank of North America, the nation's first de facto national bank. However, neither served the functions of a modern central bank: They did not set monetary policy, regulate private banks, hold their excess reserves, or act as a lender of last resort.[1] They were national insofar as they were allowed to have branches in multiple states and lend money to the US government. Other banks in the US were each chartered by, and only allowed to have branches in, a single state.

Establishment of the Bank of the United States was part of a three-part expansion of federal fiscal and monetary power, along with a federal mint and excise taxes, championed by Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton believed a national bank was necessary to stabilize and improve the nation's credit, and to improve handling of the financial business of the United States government under the newly enacted Constitution.

The First Bank building, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, within Independence National Historical Park, was completed in 1797, and is a National Historic Landmark for its historic and architectural significance.


John Lewis Krimmel, Winter Scene in Philadelphia (ca.1813)

See also: Bank of North America

Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury. In addition to the national bank, the other measures were an assumption of the state war debts by the U.S. government, establishment of a mint and imposition of a federal excise tax. The goals of Hamilton's three measures were to:[2]

In simpler words, Hamilton's four goals were to:

The tendency of a national bank is to increase public and private credit. The former gives power to the state for the protection of its rights and interests, and the latter facilitates and extends the operations of commerce amongst individuals.

— Alexander Hamilton, December 1790 report to George Washington[5]


According to the plan put before the first session of the First Congress in 1790, Hamilton proposed establishing the initial funding for the First Bank of the United States through the sale of $10 million in stock of which the United States government would purchase the first $2 million in shares. Hamilton, foreseeing the objection that this could not be done since the U.S. government did not have $2 million, proposed that the government purchase the stock using money lent to it by the bank; the loan to be paid back in ten equal annual installments.[6] The remaining $8 million of stock would be available to the public, both in the United States and overseas. The chief requirement of these non-government purchases was that one-quarter of the purchase price had to be paid in gold or silver; the remaining balance could be paid in bonds, acceptable scrip, etc.[7]

Unlike the Bank of England, the primary function of the bank would be to issue credit to the government and private interests, for internal improvements and other economic development, per Hamilton's system of Public Credit. The business would be involved in on behalf of the federal government—a depository for collected taxes, making short-term loans to the government to cover real or potential temporary income gaps, serving as a holding site for both incoming and outgoing monies—was considered highly important but still secondary in nature.[8]

There were other, non-negotiable conditions for the establishment of the First Bank of the United States. Among these were:[9]

To ensure that the government could meet both the current and future demands of its governmental accounts, an additional source of funding was required, "for interest payments on the assumed state debts would begin to fall due at the end of 1791...those payments would require $788,333 annually, and... an additional $38,291 was needed to cover deficiencies in the funds that had been appropriated for existing commitments."[11] To achieve this, Hamilton repeated a suggestion he had made nearly a year before—increase the duty on imported spirits, plus raise the excise tax on domestically distilled whiskey and other liquors. Local opposition to the tax led to the Whiskey Rebellion.


Jefferson's views:
"Hamilton's financial system had then passed. It had two objects; 1st, like a puzzle, to exclude popular understanding and inquiry; 2nd, as a machine for the corruption of the legislature; for he avowed the opinion, that man could be governed by one of two motives only, force or interest; force, he observed, in this country was out of the question, and the interests, therefore, of the members must be laid hold of, to keep the legislative in unison with the executive. And with grief and shame, it must be acknowledged that his machine was not without effect; that even in this, the birth of our government, some members were found sordid enough to bend their duty to their interests, and to look after personal rather than public good.

It is well known that during the war the greatest difficulty we encountered was the want of money or means to pay our soldiers who fought, or our farmers, manufacturers, and merchants, who furnished the necessary supplies of food and clothing for them. After the expedient of paper money had exhausted itself, certificates of debt were given to the individual creditors, with an assurance of payment so soon as the United States should be able. But the distresses of these people often obliged them to part with these for the half, the fifth, and even a tenth of their value; and speculators had made a trade of cozening them from the holders by the most fraudulent practices, and persuasions that they would never be paid. In the bill for funding and paying these, Hamilton made no difference between the original holders and the fraudulent purchasers of this paper."

Thomas Jefferson, February 4 entry in The Anas[12]

Hamilton's bank proposal faced widespread resistance from opponents of increased federal power. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and James Madison led the opposition, which claimed that the bank was unconstitutional, and that it benefited merchants and investors at the expense of the majority of the population.

Like most of the Southern members of Congress,[13] Jefferson and Madison also opposed a second of the three proposals of Hamilton: establishing an official government Mint. They believed this centralization of power away from local banks was dangerous to a sound monetary system and was mostly to the benefit of business interests in the commercial north, not southern agricultural interests, arguing that the right to own property would be infringed by these proposals. Furthermore, they contended that the creation of such a bank violated the Constitution, which specifically stated that Congress was to regulate weights and measures and issue coined money (rather than mint and bills of credit).[14]

Bank of the United States check signed by John Jacob Astor in 1792

The first part of the bill, the concept, and establishment of a national mint, met with no real objection, and sailed through; it was assumed the second and third part (the bank and an excise tax to finance it) would likewise glide through, and in their own way they did: The House version of the bill, despite some heated objections, easily passed. The Senate version of the bill did likewise, with considerably fewer, and milder, objections. It was when "the two bills changed houses, complications set in. In the Senate, Hamilton's supporters objected to the House's alteration of the plans for the excise tax."[15]

The establishment of the bank also raised early questions of constitutionality in the new government. Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury, argued that the bank was an effective means to utilize the authorized powers of the government implied under the law of the Constitution. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson argued that the bank violated traditional property laws and that its relevance to constitutionally authorized powers was weak. Another argument came from James Madison, who believed Congress had not received the power to incorporate a bank or any other governmental agency. His argument rested primarily on the Tenth Amendment: that all powers not endowed to Congress are retained by the States (or the people). Additionally, his belief was that if the Constitution's writers had wanted Congress to have such power, they would have made it explicit. The decision would ultimately fall on President George Washington, following his deliberate investigation of the cabinet members' opinions.[16]

Presidential approval

George Washington initially declared that he was hesitant to sign the "bank bill" into law. Washington asked for the written advice and supporting reasons from all his cabinet members—most particularly from Hamilton. Attorney General Edmund Randolph from Virginia felt that the bill was unconstitutional. Jefferson, also from Virginia, agreed that Hamilton's proposal was against both the spirit and letter of the Constitution. Hamilton, who, unlike his fellow cabinet members, came from New York, quickly responded to those who claimed incorporation of the bank unconstitutional. While Hamilton's rebuttals were many and varied, chief among them were these two:

On February 25, 1791, convinced that the constitution authorized the measure,[16] Washington signed the "bank bill" into law.

On March 19, 1791 Washington appointed three Commissioners for the taking of subscriptions for this new bank: Thomas Willing, David Rittenhouse, and Samuel Howell.[18]

Willing was later elected as President on October 25, 1791, until he resigned due to ill health on November 10, 1807. The bank's Philadelphia branch opened its doors on December 12, 1791.[19] Willing was succeeded by David Lenox, serving until the expiration of its charter on March 4, 1811.

Expiration of charter

After Hamilton left office in 1795, the new Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott Jr. informed Congress that, due to the existing state of government finances, more money was needed. This could be achieved either by selling the government's shares of stock in the bank or by raising taxes. Wolcott advised the first choice. Congress quickly agreed. Hamilton objected, believing that the dividends on that stock had been inviolably pledged for the support of the sinking fund to retire the debt. Hamilton tried to organize opposition to the measure but was unsuccessful.

In 1816, the bank was succeeded by the Second Bank of the United States.

Purchase by Girard

After the charter for the First Bank of the United States expired in 1811, Stephen Girard purchased most of its stock as well as the building and its furnishings on South Third Street in Philadelphia and opened his own bank, later known as Girard Bank. Girard hired George Simpson, the cashier of the First Bank of the United States, as cashier of the new bank, and with seven other employees, opened for business on May 18, 1812. He allowed the Trustees of the First Bank of the United States to use some offices and space in the vaults to continue the process of winding down the affairs of the closed bank at a nominal rent.[20]

Over its early history the bank was known as "Girard's Bank,"[21] or as "Girard Bank" [22] or also as "Stephen Girard's Bank" or even the "Bank of Stephen Girard."[21] Girard was the sole proprietor of his bank, and thus avoided the Pennsylvania state law which prohibited an unincorporated association of persons from establishing a bank, and which required a charter from the legislature for a banking corporation.[23]

Bank building

First Bank of the United States
Measured drawing of the First Bank from the Historic American Buildings Survey.[25]
Location120 S 3rd Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Coordinates39°56′53″N 75°08′47″W / 39.94806°N 75.14639°W / 39.94806; -75.14639
ArchitectSamuel Blodgett,
and James Hoban
Architectural styleGreek Revival
NRHP reference No.87001292 [24]
Added to NRHPMay 4, 1987

The First Bank of the United States was established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while the city served as the national capital, from 1790 to 1800. The bank began operations in Carpenters' Hall in 1791, some 200 feet from its permanent home.

Design of the bank building is credited to Samuel Blodgett, Superintendent of Buildings for the new capital in Washington, DC.,[26] although it has also been attributed to James Hoban.[27][28] It was completed in 1797 and was the first building specifically for the new federal government.[29]

The First Bank of the United States has received various designations as a historic building. It was included in Independence National Historical Park when the park was formed in 1956. The building's architecture was studied by the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1958.[27] With the rest of Independence National Historical Park, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966, and the bank was then declared a National Historic Landmark on May 4, 1987. It is described in the landmark designation as an early masterpiece of monumental Classical Revival design.[30]

The building has been closed to the public since the 1970s.[31] Until about 2000, the building housed offices for Independence National Historical Park. A proposal to have it house the collection of the Philadelphia Civil War Museum was abandoned when funding from the state of Pennsylvania was not forthcoming.[32]

In June 2023, Independence National Historical Park received $22 million from the Great American Outdoors Act to renovate the building and develop a museum about the early American economy, planned to open in 2026.[29][31]

See also


  1. ^ "The First Bank of the United States | Federal Reserve History". Archived from the original on July 1, 2021. Retrieved January 7, 2023.
  2. ^ Bailey, David M. Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen, Thomas A. (2006). The American pageant : a history of the Republic (13th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. pp. 193–95. ISBN 0618479279.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ "Alexander Hamilton's Fiscal Program 1791–1793". Blinn College. Archived from the original on September 26, 2002. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
  4. ^ "Alexander Hamilton's Financial Program". Digital History. Archived from the original on December 25, 2015. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
  5. ^ See (ed.) The papers of Alexander Hamilton, Columbia University Press, 1963 p. 256 Archived 2023-07-26 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Founders and Finance, Harvard U. Press. Belknap Press. October 15, 2012. ISBN 9780674066922. Archived from the original on October 27, 2021. Retrieved October 27, 2021.
  7. ^ The First Bank of the United States: A Chapter in the History of Central Banking
  8. ^ McDonald, Forrest (1979). Alexander Hamilton: A Biography. W.W. North & Co. pp. 194–95.
  9. ^ Kaplan, Edward (1999). The Bank of the United States and the American Economy. ABC-CLIO. p. 26. ISBN 9780313371523.
  10. ^ Report on the Bank, in Syrett, ed., Papers, 7:326–28
  11. ^ Further Report on Public Credit, 7:226
  12. ^ See The Complete Anas of Thomas Jefferson, 1903, p. 30
  13. ^ Coblenz, Michael (2015). "The Fight Goes on Forever: 'Limited Government' and the First Bank of the United States". Southern Illinois University Law Journal. 39: 408. Archived from the original on July 26, 2023. Retrieved October 21, 2016.
  14. ^ Westley, Christopher (Fall 2010). "The Debate Over Money Manipulations: A Short History" (PDF). Intercollegiate Review. 45 (1–2): 3–11. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 27, 2011. Retrieved February 28, 2011.
  15. ^ McDonald, Forrest (1979). Alexander Hamilton: A Biography. W.W. North & Co. p. 194.
  16. ^ a b John Marshall, The Life of George Washington, (1838) Chapter 28: Defense, Finance, Foreign Affairs – and the First "Systematic Opposition" (1790 to 1791) Archived 2013-11-02 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Washington to Hamilton, February 16, 1791, in Syrett, ed. Papers 8:98
  18. ^ Hamilton, Alexander (1961). Papers of Alexander Hamilton. Vol VIII 1781 – July 1791. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 211.
  19. ^ Carruth, Gorton (1993). Encyclopedia of American Facts and Dates (9 ed.). HarperCollins. p. 111. ISBN 0062700456.
  20. ^ Wilson, George (1995). Stephen Girard. Conshohocken: Combined Books. p. 249. ISBN 0-938289-56-X.
  21. ^ a b "Girard's Bank". LOC Authorities. Library of Congress. Retrieved May 2, 2009.[permanent dead link]
  22. ^ Konkle, Burton Alva (1937). Thomas Willing and the First American Financial System. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 199–200.
  23. ^ Wilson, George (1995). Stephen Girard. Conshohocken: Combined Books. pp. 249–250. ISBN 0-938289-56-X.
  24. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 15, 2006.
  25. ^ Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) No. PA-1417, "First Bank of the United States", 7 photos, 3 color transparencies, 18 measured drawings, 3 photo caption pages
  26. ^ "1984 National Register Nomination". Archived from the original on August 5, 2012. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
  27. ^ a b Baigell, Matthew (1969). "James Hoban and the First Bank of the United States". Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. 28 (2): 135–36. doi:10.2307/988511. JSTOR 988511.
  28. ^ Whiffen, Marcus; Koeper, Frederick (1981). American architecture 1607–1976. Cambridge: MIT Press. p. 125. ISBN 0262231050.
  29. ^ a b "The Great American Outdoors Act deposits $22 million in the First Bank of the United States - Independence National Historical Park". National Park Service. Archived from the original on July 10, 2023. Retrieved July 10, 2023.
  30. ^ "NHL nomination for First Bank of the United States". National Park Service. Archived from the original on October 22, 2020. Retrieved March 20, 2017.
  31. ^ a b "Alexander Hamilton's bank to become a museum of the American economy". WHYY. Archived from the original on July 10, 2023. Retrieved July 10, 2023.
  32. ^ "ราคาบอล ส คืออะไร แทงบอลแล้วเจอราคานี้ จะเล่นยังไง". Archived from the original on January 7, 2023. Retrieved January 7, 2023.

Further reading